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Checking Contrast in Miniature Painting: A Practical Guide.

Have you ever finished painting a miniature and thought that something was off? Yet you couldn’t quite put your finger on it? It’s possible that the issue lies with the contrast. Contrast is one of the most critical elements responsible for our tiny figures’ readability. It is also an element that is often quite difficult to judge.

In this article, I will demonstrate a simple exercise that you can use to check the contrast on your models. I will delve deeper into contrast types in a future article. For now, I will give you a practical tool to quickly assess contrast. This method is an efficient way to evaluate the contrast in your miniatures. It also helps you identify areas that may need improvement.

I want to keep this information separate from the rest of the article. It should stand out and not get lost, among other details. Separating it will also help you to use it right away.

For this to work, I need you to trust that I know what I’m talking about here. A well-painted miniature will look good in colour and grey scale.
That is the foundation of this method. It is also very much true:)

So yeah, the well-painted miniature will look good when turned to grayscale. You will still be able to see it clearly, and all elements will be well-defined. Every element will be visible and 3 dimensional on its own, and they will look good and be easy to read together. Nothing will be lost in the sea of grey.

Take a photo of the miniature you want to check, and turn it into greyscale. By doing that, we will remove the colour information. We will focus on the brightness and readability of the elements. On top of that, we will see if the colour scheme we’ve chosen works well together.

The quickest way to check the contrast in black and white is to turn off the colours on your phone while looking at the photo. Or, turn down the saturation in the photo editor on the phone. You will have the added bonus of looking at a smaller picture of your model. So, all parts blending together will be more apparent. But I’d say it’s a first-glance method.

Working on a computer in graphic software will give you more options, though. You will see all the small details that could be done better. You will also have the option to modify the photo to see if it makes a change in the right direction. Then you’ll know what to do with the brush later.
The software I’m using is Adobe Photoshop, but I’m sure others also give you that option.

Let’s look at some examples to better explain what I am talking about.

Below, you can see Alfonso (Sad Pirate from Latorre) and the Pilot (JMD Miniatures). Both pieces are examples of sound contrast, if I may say so myself.
Both are easy to read in greyscale, with faces clearly the focal point of the whole piece. All elements are dynamic and work well together. The colours I used don’t blend into each other in greyscale.

Here, we have Landsknecht (SK Miniatures) and Veteran (Medieval Knight JMD Miniatures) – both paint jobs, even if still pretty nice, have some issues in the contrast area.

The main issue I can see when looking at Landsknecht’s paint job is how red and black look almost the same in the photo. To be fair, all the details on the lover part of the bust, under the beard, blend together too much. To fix that, I could darken the black. It’s highlighted too much, turning almost blue. I could also add some green into the shadows in the red. Maybe I could increase the highlights further as well.
I still very much like how his face looks, both in colour and black and white. I could add red to the nose area, but I’m nitpicking now.

The Veteran is pretty much a mess in greyscale. The greens and leathers look almost the same. The face is heavily fragmented and disappears in the beard and chainmail. To be fair, the face actually has an issue that is opposite to the rest of the model. It has too much contrast. Looking at it now, I pushed the contrast on the face a tad too much and added dark lines separating the planes of the face. It is slightly less obvious in the colour version, where the colour itself helps read this as one element. It should be painted more as a whole, not separate elements. The beard could also benefit from more general light and shadow. This can be done on top of the separation of the hair strands.

Frankie (FeR Miniatures) and Shroom Troll (Figone). I’m on the fence when it comes to these two models. There are no grave errors here. They have some nice contrast in certain areas, but I feel it could be better.

Frankie is still clearly readable in greyscale. However, I’m losing the red-green contrast on the face. Maybe if I used a different kind of red, I’d be able to contrast those colours better. Still decent work, and I’m pleased with all the small details of the face being visible.

Shroom Troll looks clear in greyscale. However, the contrast between blue and yellowish green is wholly lost. The cold pinkish? Red under the eyes and in the ears is lost, too. I’m not sure how to fish it, and I’ve not decided I should.

Of course, you can use this method on your work in progress. You’ll quickly reassess if you are going in the right direction.

Reichdoctor (Large scale model from Smart Max).
Even though this is still an early WIP, I can already see that the skin looks quite, and the coat has nice tonal changes. This is partially due to the scale of the model, of course, but no one said we couldn’t take advantage of this.

Bad Santa.
This miniature is still a WIP, but looking at it in greyscale, I can see that the red and green don’t work right now. Both of them look flat and almost identical in greyscale. If I ever decide to finish the guy, I will have to do something about it.

In conclusion, checking the contrast of your miniatures in greyscale is a quick and easy way to assess the effectiveness of your painting. This method is a valuable tool that can help you enhance the contrast of your minis. Whether working on a computer or using your phone, this method is useful. It can help you manage your miniatures’ contrast better. Remember, a well-painted miniature will look good in colour and greyscale. So, don’t forget to step back and check
your work in black and white.

And don’t forget to check my other articles and tutorials.

Happy painting!

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